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GED graduates change the community

Rachel Pilkinton with her three children Leah, Boston, and Stevie at the GED graduation. Pilkinton spoke at the graduation on Sunday. Staff Photo by Janet Rail

Sixty new GED graduates donned their cap and gown Sunday at the McNairy Central Little Theatre.

The graduates haven’t just changed their lives, but the lives of all in the community as well. Many of the graduates are continuing their education at various colleges and technical schools and plan to start a new chapter in their lives and their future.

According to Patsy Pearson, Adult Education Supervisor, the Adult Education program has been in place since 1996 with over 973 students graduating. The Alliance for Excellent Education reports that every school day almost seven thousand students become dropouts. That adds up to almost 1.2 million students who will not graduate from high school. The economic benefits and return of GED testing are significant. 

The average income for a high school dropout in 2005 was $17,299, compared to $26,933 for a high school graduate, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census 2006.

If the nation’s secondary schools were able to graduate all of their students, rather than the 70 percent currently graduating annually, the national economy would have benefited from an additional $329 billion in income over their lifetimes.

Everyone benefits from increased graduation rates as it is said  “students who learn more earn more.” 

GED grads have many different reasons for not completing high school, but the 60 represented Sunday would inspire us all. One such graduate, Rachel Pilkinton, 36, of Stantonville, shared with the crowd her aspirations in high school of graduating, going to college and law school. “I had always wanted to be a lawyer,” said Pilkinton, but some bad decisions in the 10th grade led to her dropping out of school.

Twenty years later, at age 36, she entered the education program with the same dream of becoming a lawyer. She is the mother of three children Stevie 13, Leah 11 and Boston 6. When Boston started kindergarten she enrolled and they both started their educational journey together.

“I wanted to give my kids a better life and encourage them to stay in school and not make the mistakes I made,” she continued. Although she was determined to go to law school, her life took another course when her daughter was diagnosed with tourette syndrome. 

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. Early symptoms are almost always noticed first in childhood with the average onset between the ages of 7 and 10 years. Over 200,000 Americans have the most severe form of TS and as many as 1 in 100 exhibit milder and less complex symptoms as does Leah.

“My daughter is at Adamsville Elementary in the 6th grade and is the only child with tourettes, which has inspired me to go into special education,” she continued. In addition to working on her GED, Rachel has completed one semester at the University of Tennesssee with a 4.0 grade point average. 

In closing Rachel stated, “If you want something bad enough and believe in yourself, you can do anything. Education is the key.”

Carolyn Bowers, Literacy Council President, addressed the crowd saying the McNairy County Adult Education program was the best in the country and she was proud of each and every one of them. “When students enter the front door of the center, the staff makes them feel at home and welcome. There are no limits to where you can go,” she said.

Among the graduates were two mother-daughter teams.  Denise Reed, mother, and daughter Sarah Robertson decided they wanted to do this together.  “Sarah decided to go, and I wanted to encourage my daughter so I joined her,” said Sarah. Sarah has plans to continue her education as this is something she has always wanted to do.

Another mother-daughter team Jeannett McCary, mother, and daughter Frances Hobbs saw it all the way through together. “This is my fourth attempt to get my GED. My daughter came back into my life two years ago, and we decided to do this together,” said McCary. Both mother and daughter will be attending Northeast Mississippi Junior College with Jeannett in auto mechanics and Frances entering nursing school. “I want to be a pediatric nurse because I love kids and like helping people,” said Hobbs.

Awards were given during graduation for exceptional achievement to Rachel Pilkinton and Corey Nixon, superior citizenship award to Jessica Nichols, outstanding learner award to Shirley Thomas, highest scores in reading to Denise Reed, science to Trevar Gerken and Brian Smith, in social studies to Dale Francisco, language to Rachel Pilkinton, math and highest GED score to Brian Smith and a Literacy Council Scholarship awarded to Racehl Pilkinton.

“I need to thank all our sponsors who fund this program. Their generosity is overwhelming as they value the program which continues to inspire the staff to do their jobs well,” said Pearson. 

More graduates benefit society and certainly McNairy County. Persons interested in obtaining a GED are encouraged to stop by the Adult Education Center to take the next step to a brighter future.

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